Last week, Tuesday, October 5, 2021, was observed as World Teachers’ Day (WTD). The day, which was set aside in 1994, is held annually to commemorate the adoption of the 1966 International Labour Organisation/United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ILO/UNESCO) recommendation concerning the status of teachers. Since then, WTD has become an occasion for stakeholders in the education sector to reflect on ways to counter the challenges confronting the teaching profession. The event is co-convened under a partnership between the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), ILO and Education International (EI). The theme of the 2021 WTD is: “Teachers at the Heart of Education Recovery”.
Although WTD is officially not a public holiday in Nigeria, it is used, especially by government, to honour teachers who distinguish themselves in their career. In the past, the day was usually greeted with glamourous activities, including match past, novelty matches and public lectures, where teachers’ responsibilities, rights and values were underscored. The WTD further provides opportunity for discussing teachers’ working conditions and job prospects.
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On this year’s WTD in Nigeria, except in Ekiti State where Governor Kayode Fayemi presented cars, computers, cash and other gifts to teachers in the state-owned primary, secondary and technical schools, the day was observed in many states of the federation without the usual excitement by teachers due either to non-fulfilment of promises or non-payment of their salaries and other entitlements. In Taraba State, for example, teachers are being owed six months salaries.
When President Muhammadu Buhari announced a special package of incentives during the 2020 WTD, Nigerian teachers’ thought the long years of travails in their chosen career had come to an end. The package, it would be recalled, which was announced by the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, who represented President Buhari, included a special salary scale for teachers, an upward review of their retirement age from 60 to 65, an upward review of maximum years of service from 35 to 40, rural posting allowance, science teachers’ allowance, peculiar allowance, automatic employment of Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) and Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) students upon graduation, building of low-cost houses for teachers in rural areas, prompt payment of salaries and timely promotion to eliminate stagnation. Malam Adamu also announced that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) had been directed to fund teaching practice in universities and colleges of ducation.
With all the good intention behind these incentives which are deliberate designs to make the teaching profession attractive, in addition to changing the decades-old embarrassing narrative of the teaching profession in the country, government has failed to show genuine commitment to their implementation. Twelve months after this set of stimuli was publicised, the bill on the matter is yet to be passed by the National Assembly, let alone signed into law by the president.
While teachers were patiently waiting for government to fulfil its promises, the federal government on the occasion of the 2021 WTD in Abuja, yet announced another pack of incentives; this time for prospective teachers. Malam Adamu who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the education ministry, Sonny Echono, said the federal government had approved N75,000 as stipend per semester for students of degree programmes in education in Nigerian public universities. He also said students undergoing the NCE programme would receive N50,000 per semester.
This inaction on the promises made to teachers undermines President Buhari’s assertion that, “Only great teachers can produce excellent people and students that will make the future of our country great.” The failed promise on emoluments has since remained a major cause of teachers’ industrial actions in Nigeria.
Therefore, while we commend teachers for their patience, we urge the legislative and executive arms of government to quickly conclude all procedures so that the implementation of the 2020 WTD package of incentives will begin by January, 2022. It is time for government to fulfil its promises to teachers, otherwise, the desire to not only attract the best brains to the teaching profession, but also encourage young graduates to take up careers in teaching, will be nothing more than wishful thinking.